This play is traditionally regarded as the final one of which Shakespeare is the sole author. No direct source has been found. Its plot, set in the fifteenth century, is simple, especially compared to the overwhelming intricacies of the other romances, but the story suggests so many allegorical levels that it has inspired a great variety of interpretations. We shall focus on three perspectives: the political, the artistic, and the familial.
The Tempest is one of only two of Shakespeare's plays ( The Comedy of Errors is the other) that largely obeys the classical unities of time, place, and action. More important, events are tightly controlled, for early on we recognize that Prospero is in command of everything that happens. No matter what alliances and conspiracies form, no matter what personal struggles characters undergo, all will resolve happily because Prospero can determine the course of action. Thus the play has little conflict and less suspense. The questions that occupy us concern the significance of what unfolds.
The story begins on a ship amidst a terrifying storm. In this moment of crisis the personalities of several principal characters are revealed. The Boatswain, for instance, has little regard for the royal standing of his superiors:
Use your authority. If you cannot, give thanks you have liv'd so long, and make yourself ready in your cabin for the mischance of the hour, if it so hap. (I, i, 23-26)
He dismisses useless or ill-used authority. Later the issue of power properly wielded becomes crucial. The Boatswain's bluster is overheard by Gonzalo, whose response reveals his nature:
I have great comfort from this fellow. Methinks he hath no drowning mark upon him, his complexion is perfect gallows . . . If he be not born to be hang'd, our case is miserable. (I, i, 28-33)